Swiss Army Knife

Clint Capela worked out for a dozen teams during the final weeks leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft. Still, he’s found time to watch every single Switzerland match in this summer’s historically entertaining World Cup.

Sure enough, on the eve of the Draft, the 20-year-old found solace on the couch witnessing the Swiss team top Honduras 3-0 to advance to the tournament’s Round of 16. Considered a lock to be selected in the first round, Capela’s wasn’t nervous about the Draft, just anxious about where he’ll begin his NBA career.

“I’m really excited, but I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Capela told SLAM through a thick French accent. “I’m just curious where I’m going to play. I want to get started.”

The 6-11 big man grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. His mother immigrated from Congo and his father from Angola. Capela and his two older brothers were all born in Switzerland. It wasn’t until he became a teenager that one of Capela’s brothers convinced him to enter the realm of competitive basketball.

“I played soccer until I was 13,” Capela says. “I was really good. I was really fast.”

He glided past his friends with his long legs and weaved through defenses with nifty dribbling skills. As a youngster, Capela envisioned playing soccer professionally. If he hadn’t sprouted to a near-7-foot frame, perhaps he’d have helped the Swiss advance past Honduras on Wednesday.

“It was really hard for me to leave soccer behind,” he says. “All of my friends played soccer. That was our thing.”

Capela’s first days on the basketball court weren’t as fluid as his time on the pitch, but he knew he had a knack for the game the second he touched an orange ball.

He towered over his older brother’s friends after his brother convinced him to pick up the game competitively. He was already tall and fast with good mobility. Just a year into the organized game, Capela was the main attraction playing on his 18-year-old brother’s squad.

“I played with his team and I put up a dunk and everybody screamed because I was 14,” he says with a laugh. “It was a big deal.”

When Capela and his friends weren’t playing soccer, they dabbled in hoops at the park. They tried to emulate Allen Iverson’s crossover. That’s when he began watching as many NBA games as he could halfway across the world.

By 15, Capela had moved to Chalon, France to be a part of the club’s junior team. His prolific progress on the court turned a dream of playing the NBA into a reality.

“My first year in France, I played with the junior team, the Under 21, and I really had a good game,” Capela says. “I was athletic, I was talented, I was a good finisher around the rim, I was good on rebounds and I was fast. I first felt I could play in the NBA at 15.”

In 2012, he joined Elan Chalon’s senior team in the LNB Pro A. His play has often resembled a young Kevin Garnett, the way he runs the floor like a gazelle, impacts opponents’ offensive possessions with impeccable rotation defense and he’s relentless on the glass.

This past season, Capela found himself locked to the bench at the beginning of the year. But a coaching change that let go of Mickael Hay and handed the reigns to Jean-Denys Choulet unleashed Capela’s game that has many NBA scouts salivating. He led Chalon to a 9-3 mark in the 12 games after the coaching change, averaging 18.5 points while shooting an astounding 69 percent from the field, 13 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per-40 minutes.

“It was a good thing for me because he put me on the floor and let me play so I could improve,” Capela says. “He put me on the floor and we won a lot of games. He just let me play. It was great.”

His English obviously is as raw as his game, but Capela speaks with a confidence and professionalism. He’s been America for almost a month preparing for the NBA draft at his agency’s home base in Dallas, TX, and his no plans of leaving the country any time soon. He’s worked on mainly his strength and conditioning. His representatives say he now weights 235 pounds, pushing 240 pounds after weighing it at 225 during this past season.

“I’ve worked on my quickness and my toughness on the floor. To be more athletic and more quick,” he says. “I’ve worked on my shot a little bit. I’ve been working more on my strength and conditioning mostly.”

With endless energy as he bounds up and down the floor, Capela has a chance to be a legitimate contributor to a high-profile team that drafts him in the 20s. The Houston Rockets did just that, selecting him with the No. 25 overall pick on Thursday night.

Capela’s game is built on some of the skills that often prove most transmittable from the amateur game to the League.

He breaks his game down into layman’s terms.

“I play defense tough, I’m a good rebounder, I run good on the floor and I run fast for the fast break. I search for the good pass,” Capela says.

Capela says he’s always worshiped Thabo Sefolosha. “He’s the first player from Switzerland to make the NBA. He’s my hero,” he explains.

Just like the Swiss national soccer team, Capela’s moving on the next step in his journey. He could very well be playing Sefolosha and Oklahoma City in the Playoffs next season.